The divinity and humanity of Jesus is a paradoxical truth that is impossible for our finite minds to understand. Thankfully, we have Scripture that helps us know some, but we admittedly “see through a glass dimly,” as the Apostle Paul might say.
We are familiar with the Scriptures which speak of Jesus’ divinity. He is the Mighty God, the Word made flesh, and the fullness of God dwells in Him (Isaiah 9:6, John 1:1-14, Col. 1:19). There are many references that help us see the humanity of Jesus. He experiences a human birth (Mat. 1:24-25); He is tired and hungry (John 4:6, John 19:28); He appears to others as a man (John 7:2-5), and He has human emotions (Mat. 8:10, John 12:27).
An Omniscient Human?
A question that makes understanding the co-existing of divinity and humanity difficult is that of Jesus’ knowledge and understanding. In other words, did Jesus possess omniscience (the all-knowing attribute of God) while He is a human? Scripture seems to indicate that He did not.
Two gospel passages point to Jesus being born with a human mind and not an omniscient one. The first passage is Luke 2:40, 52, which says that Jesus increases in wisdom as a child. God is all-wise. How can Jesus, if He is fully divine and omniscient, increase in wisdom? The second passage which points to Jesus not having omniscience is Mark 13:32. In this passage, Jesus states that He does not know the timing of the end of the age (“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone”). If Jesus is God, how can He not know? (Does the Holy Spirit know?)
Kenosis – Jesus Empties Himself
Does Jesus’ lack of “full” omniscience take away from His divinity? Are we mistaken to think Jesus is God in the flesh if He is not all-knowing? The answer to these questions is no. Jesus is God in the flesh. At first glance, these verses (Luke 2:52 and Mark 13:32) seemingly undermine the divinity of Jesus. However, if we view the divinity of Jesus, as Paul describes in Philippians 2:7, we grow in our understanding.
Paul writes that Jesus empties Himself of His Godly form to take on the likeness of men (similarly, the writer of Hebrews, 2:14, says Jesus “shares” in our nature). The Greek word translated “emptied” is a form of kenoó, from which we get the word kenosis.
I have a simple mind. It is the best way I can understand how Jesus might empty Himself. I hold this view loosely and am not dogmatic with this illustration. If you understand how it works better, I am all ears.
The way I think of Jesus emptying Himself is that I imagine Jesus leaving heaven to take on flesh. He stands at the (figurative) door to earth. Before going through the door, He puts aside some aspects of His nature. For instance, He empties Himself of His omniscience and hands it to His Father. He submits it to the will of His Father. It is given to Him upon His return. When Jesus goes through the door and walks into the realm of earth, having left omniscience with His Father, He is still Jesus, God the Son. Putting His omniscience on the shelf does not take away from His identity as God. He is still fully Jesus. He is God who empties Himself and becomes a being in our likeness. Who He is doesn’t change. His ability changes, but it is only temporary. He still owns His omniscience.
When Jesus enters our domain, His mind is “empty” as much as any infant is empty. (There are cognitive abilities of an infant that exist at birth. In effect, I don’t believe all infants are born with a totally empty mind. They learn of their environment, even in the womb.) Jesus needs to grow in wisdom just as any child must.
When Jesus is at the temple, as a twelve-year-old, His understanding is a display of what He learned, and it is not a demonstration of His omniscience. Jesus asks questions. He seeks to learn and add to His understanding (implying His understanding is not full). The teachers are likely amazed because of His age, just as we might be amazed to see a 12-year-old engaging with top-notch theologians on television.
Who taught Jesus as a boy? Deuteronomy 6:7-9 commands parents to diligently teach their children in the ways of God. Joseph and Mary are godly parents and teach Jesus. He likely learns of the calling on His life from them as they recount their experiences with Gabriel, Zacharias, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna to their Son.
Jesus grows up where there is a “home-town” synagogue with copies of the Scripture. It is not difficult to imagine Him faithfully reading the scrolls and learning from others. In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus visits the synagogue at the beginning of His ministry. The people recognize Him as Joseph’s son. He’s been there before.
Summary (and disclaimer)
Scripture does not tell the extent Jesus empties Himself. This post is written to explain how I’ve come to understand how Jesus might be fully divine while being fully human. When Jesus asks questions in the temple and later admits not knowing something as an adult, it definitely points to His “emptying Himself of His omniscience.
There are unanswered questions. For instance, If Jesus is not omniscient, we don’t know how Jesus saw Philip under the fig tree (John 1:50), “knew all men’ (John 2:24), or that there was a large catch of fish on the other side of the boat (Luke 5:4). The only answer we might offer up to explain is that the Holy Spirit told Him these things.
The humanity of Jesus ought not to diminish our esteem and reverence for Him; it ought to increase our worship. To know that He is more like us in His temptations and that He must strive to grow in wisdom and knowledge is comforting and very impressive. To know Jesus experiences hardship and suffering like us should deepen our appreciation for His sacrifice. His willingness to empty Himself of anything is a quality worthy of great admiration and praise.